KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Dexter McCluster figures he watched his shake-and-baking punt return about 500 times, a dynamic touchdown run last Sunday that helped his Kansas City Chiefs beat the New York Giants.
Don’t think for a second that he was exaggerating, either.
McCluster fades back to field the kick late in the third quarter, with the Chiefs clinging to a field-goal lead. He moves to his left to make the first man miss, and then ducks his shoulder and twirls like a top to make the next would-be tackler look silly. Then he turns on the jets, slipping between two more Giants and hitting the open field at top speed.
Just for one last highlight, he makes an ankle-breaking sidestep that leaves one last cover man grasping at air. From there, McCluster heads to the end zone for the game-breaking score.
Worth watching all those times?
“I laughed because I didn’t remember that spin move, but it worked,” McCluster said. “I had great blocking, some great individual efforts and got into the end zone. I’m serious. I probably watched it 500 times.”
It was the second punt return touchdown of McCluster’s career, and it came at an opportune time not only for the Chiefs, but also for the fourth-year wide receiver.
McCluster has been trying to find his niche in the NFL ever since he was drafted in the second round in 2010. He stands just 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds and he’s never been able to handle running back duties, even though previous regimes have tried. He’s more suited to be a wide receiver, but his lack of size doesn’t necessarily help.
Finally, McCluster seems to be finding his place under new coach Andy Reid.
Along with proving himself a dynamic punt returner, he’s also getting more involved in the passing game. He had a season-high five catches in the win over the Giants, and several of them allowed the Chiefs to keep the chains moving on third down.
While he’ll never be able to stretch the field vertically, he’s proven to be a sure-handed pass-catcher in the flat, where he then can use his swiveling hips to make defenders miss.
“I have to do my job, whether it’s as a punt returner or as an offensive player,” McCluster said. “I picked up some key first downs, some third-down conversions, and all that matters is we won the game, so I can’t complain about anything else.”
Especially when the Chiefs are off to a 4-0 start.
“He is so versatile, not just on special teams. He’s a playmaker for us,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. “He’s not just an offensive weapon, but also on special teams. But on offense, there’s no question we take advantage of what he can do.”
That hasn’t always been the case. McCluster has drawn the ire of coaches and fans alike for failing to provide the big plays that the previous regime expected when they picked him 36th overall out of Ole Miss. Part of it was constant changes in the coaching staffs, but part of it was also the physical limitations that he brings to the table.
Now, the Chiefs are finding ways to use McCluster’s speed without his size being a liability, and the result is one more piece for an offense that is starting to get on track.
“He can do a lot of things for you,” Reid said. “We’ve tried to do some of those without overloading him. You get to a point where you have so many different plays, and that’s not reality. It has to make sense to the player where they’re at and why they’re there. He’s a very intelligent kid and works his tail off. I’m just trying to be careful where we put him.”
That includes returning punts. McCluster has done it off and on throughout his career, but his dazzling touchdown return against the Giants may net him the job for quite some time.
“That was a pretty good one,” Reid said. “He made a whole lot of folks miss. It ranks up there, I guess, with the some of the better ones I’ve seen.”